The economics of theatrical dance in eighteenth-century England

What did dance cost an 18th-century London theatre company? The importance of dance as an attraction even at the end the 17th century is well established, but except for some celebrated short-term visitors the cost to the theatres is difficult (indeed, largely impossible) to ascertain. For many years dance was provided by performers who also acted and sang, so the cost of dance is often inseparable from other costs. Only when separately budgeted dancers were hired and accounts start to survive can we begin to calculate what dance cost and what proportion of the budget it comprised. By mid-century dance in the theatre becomes increasingly separate and expensive, though never so much so as in the opera house where during the 1780s and 1790s the budget for dancers could actually exceed that for singers. Hidden costs (when known) [prove surprisingly high, especially for ballet d’action, where costumes, scenery, light, and rehearsals contributed to staggering totals. Even in the theatres, however expenditure on dance increases steadily - clear proof of the importance of the attraction of dance to theatregoers.

Judith Milhous
Symposium Title: 
Dance on the English Stage – 1999
Author affiliation: 
Graduate School of the City University of New York, New York